As you may or may not know, there’s more to this twisted little amusement than just picking out old names and writing them down. If you’re a rookie in this league, or even a second- or third-year player, you have much to learn, Grasshopper. And just as important as the insider tips that will help you compete with the experts, is the rich lore of our humble little contest, The Lee Atwater Invitational.
Many are the storied tales from Dead Pools past, and many are the painful lessons learned by those who went before you. They failed so that you might prosper. Here, then, are some of the more precious pearls of wisdom that have been cultivated during the years that good ol’ Lee’s been feeding worms. Note well that none of these edifying items delineates a hard and fast rule of the game. They’re merely markers of some big bumps in the road. Take heed.
The Dean Martin Clause
Anyone involved in the thrilling climax to 1995’s competition will long remember the thunderous repercussions to Mr. Martin’s untimely departure. Not only for the stunning sudden death victory it gave to one lucky stiff, but also for the misery it brought to several anxious players who had jumped the gun on ’96. It’s hard enough to win with ten good candidates for corpsedom; it’s really hard to win with nine. The moral? Don’t send ’em in too early, folks, ’cause even the biggest of stars could kick on Christmas Day. Ask Dino.
The Woody Herman Phenomenon
Bandleader Herman won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1987 and was dead before the year was out, a fairly common occurrence, as it turns out. Once in a while the awards boys slip up and give one of these to someone who really deserves it, but usually, “Lifetime Achievement” is Hollywoodese for “nice knowin’ ya.” Always pay strict attention to the awards shows.
The Ginger Rogers Dilemma
No one likes a sore loser, but doesn’t each of us know a perennial Dead Pool also-ran who still bemoans that one name that somehow got left off this year’s list and then bit the dust in February? Yes, it’s hard to narrow down your choices when they all seem so deserving, but just think how tough the real Grim Reaper’s job must be. So many incontinent rich people. So few urns. Try not to lose any sleep over these ashes-to-be, friends, there’s always going to be one that got away. Still, if you really can’t stand the thought of leaving even one old has-been on the cutting room floor, you can always make more lists.
The Federico Fellini Faux Pas
After coming across this little goof several times, including experiencing it ourselves, we think we may have arrived at a reasonable explanation, so here it is. As each of us goes through our busy lives, the news of various celebrities leaving the spotlight (i.e. dying) comes to us from many different sources, and is often mentioned only briefly. Since there is a finite number of famous people that any of us really care about, much of this information barely registers, and then is quickly forgotten, or at best, casually stored. The place where many of us choose to catalog bits of info on such an unpleasant subject as death is a small, dark corner of our minds reserved for stuff far less important and no more joyful than that the dog needs a bath. And there it sits, undisturbed, until the day one sits down to compose a Dead Pool list, and the ol’ brain-box starts its search … “Who’s gonna die?… Who’s gonna die?” We’re convinced that it’s during this search that the now-faded kernel of data is stumbled upon in its small, dark corner, and, because it has some dim connection to the task at hand, it is grasped at … “I think I heard something about him …. I think I heard he was sick ….”
We’ve said it before, and it’s still true, so we’ll say it again: research is the key.
The Tom Bradley Blunder
One of our all-time biggest money-winners ($1,217.50) and ’96 co-champion, the Mistress of Death herself, the one most of you know simply as “Julie (that bitch),” shocked everyone in mid-’97 when she asked that a name on one of her entries be removed from consideration. Not replaced. Not relocated. Just taken out of the running altogether, with no ulterior motive or conceivable advantage to her chances in the game. She simply insisted that the name in question (Tom Bradley) be stricken from her list of that year’s Most Likely To Expire. “And why,” you’re wondering, “would Senorita Stiffs do such a thing? What could possibly have motivated her to purposely weaken her stranglehold on the top spot in the World’s Greatest Game? What the hell happened?” She had lunch with him. That’s right, lunch. Seems her Dad was an old acquaintance of Mr. Mayor, and when the plans were made for a little mid-day repast, he asked his daughter if she wouldn’t mind joining them. Ah, lunch … that innocuous, 5-letter word that means so much more than just a meal. In Julie’s case, it meant that the heretofore abstract concept of Tom Bradley, old celebrity (and 5 potential Dead Pool points), now became Tom Bradley, person. There, across the table from her, was a face and a voice and —- well, she cracked. The killer instinct that had carried her to victory in ’96 suddenly failed her, and she succumbed to the one true enemy of Dead Pool players the world over: sentiment. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our years of competition, it’s that there’s no room for sentiment in the winner’s circle. You wanna make friends? Go to the John Denver newsgroup. You wanna win a Dead Pool? Avoid lunch with the people on your list. It’s really that simple.
The Anna Nicole Smith Scenario
Many a well-researched list has been undermined by its compiler’s obsessive hatred for a particular celebrity or two (or three). We here at stiffs.com encourage the active loathing of famous people, as it is, in a poignantly irrational way, what Dead Pools are all about. Our suggestion, however, is not to dilute the strength of a powerful entry with the names of despicable, yet healthy people. That’s counter-productive. Allow us to introduce you to the therapeutic value of The Hate List. We believe that by concentrating all the venomous feeling one harbors for the world’s most detestable citizens (talk-show hosts, gymnasts, etc.) in a separate entry, the very act of committing those names to paper and then submitting them (along with your entry money, of course) will serve to purge one’s tortured heart of a full year’s worth of unwanted vitriol, while still maintaining one’s competitive edge. No, the average Hate List doesn’t stand much chance of winning, but its value cannot be denied. Take, for example, one such list submitted for 1996’s Invitational:
- Jesse Helms
- Andy Rooney
- Strom Thurmond
- Dick Vitale
- Newt Gingrich
- Elaine Boozler
- Howard Stern
- Greg Kinnear
- Monica Seles
While it’s true that only one of these names has yet found its way onto a tombstone, the player who submitted the list reports that he now actively hates only 3 of the remaining 9. The other 6 he pities. And the other two lists he submitted (for serious contention) both finished near the top of the ’96 standings. That, folks, is a successful Hate List in action.